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5 Women Who Won the Nobel Peace Prize and Their Stories

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at St. John's chapter.

The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the 5 Nobel Prizes established by Alfred Nobel, a Swedish industrialist, inventor, and armaments manufacturer. The other 4  Nobel Prizes include ones in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, and Literature. The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to a person who has, “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses” (Nobel Peace Prize). It is regarded as an award that is the pinnacle of achievement in making the world a better place, and is meant to honor those who seek to expand peace and cooperation in our world. From 1901, when the Nobel Prize was established, to 2021, only 58 women have won the Nobel Prize – and only 16 of those awards were for the peace prize.  Here are some notable women who have won the prestigious award and deserve more recognition for their fights in human rights activism (About the nobel peace prize, 2021).

Jane Addams (1931) 

Jane Addams was born and grew up in the United States. As an activist and social worker, she founded the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1919, a non-governmental organization meant to bring women together and spark conversations about war and peace initiatives. The organization is deeply rooted in feminist ideals, their slogan today reads, “We address the root causes of violence through a feminist lens” (WILPF). In 1931, Addams won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to help the poor and stop the use of children as industrial workers, as well as for her mission of creating world peace. She was the 2nd woman to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize and stands as a constant inspiration for the feminist movement today. In my eyes, she is a very important figure as being only the 2nd woman to ever win the peace prize (Shaping WILPF’s Next International Programme). 

Mother Teresa (1979) 

In 1979, Mother Teresa the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on building nursing homes, hospices, and shelters for orphans in Kolkata, India. She is best known for her work with India. At the age of 12, she heard a call from God to demand her life for him, so she entered a nunnery. After receiving her education, she went on to Calcutta, India to be a teacher. While teaching in India, she heard a 2nd call from God to help the poor while living among them. That is when she found a new sisterhood called Missionaries of Charity, and where she spent her time building homes for orphans, nursing homes for lepers, and hospices for the terminally ill. In 2016, Pope Francis canonized Mother Teresa and declared her a saint at the Vatican. Mother Teresa is an important political and religious figure, and should be looked up to by young women today. We can practice her teachings of helping those in need to become better people (The nobel peace prize 1979). 

Aung San Suu Kyi (1991) 

Aung San Suu Kyi was born in Myanmar and won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in defending democracy and human rights. She is the daughter of Aung San, who was also a liberation movement leader. She is one of the founders of the National League for Democracy, also called the NLD. Kyi was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi as she opposed all use of violence and called on military leaders to hand over their power to the civilian government. Her goal was to create harmony among her country’s ethnic groups. During the election of 1990 in Burma, the NLD had a clear victory, but they were prevented from convening. Generals put Kyi on house arrest, which is when she was granted the Nobel Peace Prize. The accomplishment had a significant impact on shifting the world’s opinion on her cause, but she remained under house arrest for almost 15 years. She was released on November 13, 2010, which is when she was finally able to resume her political career. She is a strong example of what the Nobel Prize embodies in peace because of her perseverance to do good, even when she was held in captivity. She has inspired many generations of young women to be as strong as her (The nobel peace prize 1991).

Wangari Maathai (2004) 

Wangari Maathai is the first African woman to win this prize. She was born and raised in Kenya, Africa and was an environmental activist. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, which is just one of the many prestigious awards she has won throughout her career. Maathai is also the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree in biology. She played an active role in fighting for democracy in Kenya and opposed the regime of Daniel arap Moi. Maathai is also the founder of the Green Belt Movement, an indigenous, grass-roots, non-governmental organization based in Nairobi, Kenya that focuses on environmental conservation, community development, and capacity building, and is aimed at the countering of the deforestation that threatens the agricultural population. The movement contributed to the planting of over 30 million trees across many African countries. According to the Nobel committee, Maathai, “thinks globally and acts locally.” She is an inspiration to women across the world who want to look at the broader perspective of the world and save democracy (The nobel peace prize 2004).

Malala Yousafzai (2014) 

Malala Yousafzai is the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She was born in the Swat district of Northwestern Pakistan, and grew up under the influence of her father who was a school owner and an activist in educational issues. Since 2009, she has blogged for the BBC about her experiences during the Taliban’s growing influence in her region of Pakistan. In 2012, the Taliban attempted to assassinate Malala on her bus ride home from school because of her advocacy for young girls’ education. She had to undergo many operations in the United Kingdom, which is where she lives now,  after this attempted assassination. The main focus of her work is on the rights of young girls in education. She believes that in order to achieve a peaceful world, it is essential that the rights of young people and children be respected. At the age of 11 years old, Malala was already fighting for the rights of girls in education. After the gunned attack by the Taliban in 2012, she has still continued to fight for these rights. In 2014 she wrote her best selling book, I Am Malala, which continued to inspire the world to help her fight for the rights of education for girls and young people. I have watched many of Malala’s speeches online- and to me her most profound speech was the acceptance for this award. Malala uses eloquent language to speak about real-world problems that affect the lives of young women everyday. She is one of the greatest inspirations for our generation (The women who won The nobel peace prize, 2018).


  1. About The nobel peace prize. Nobel Peace Prize. (2021, August 30). Retrieved November 4, 2021, from https://www.nobelpeaceprize.org/nobel-peace-prize/about-the-nobel-peace-prize/.
  2. Radu, S. (2018, October 5). The women who won The nobel peace prize | best countries … Retrieved November 16, 2021, from https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/slideshows/the-women-who-won-the-nobel-peace-prize?slide=13.
  3. Shaping WILPF’s Next International Programme. WILPF. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2021, from https://www.wilpf.org/.
  4. The nobel peace prize 1991. NobelPrize.org. (n.d.). Retrieved November 4, 2021, from https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1991/kyi/facts/
  5. The nobel peace prize 2004. NobelPrize.org. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2021, from https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2004/maathai/facts/.
  6. The nobel peace prize 1979. NobelPrize.org. (n.d.). Retrieved November 4, 2021, from https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1979/teresa/facts/.
Isabella Cautero

St. John's '25

Hi! My name is Isabella Cautero and I'm studying journalism at St.John's University in Queens. I love pop-culture, sports, music, movies and so much more. I enjoy playing with my dog in my free time and spending time with my family and loved ones! I'm from Jersey, so my favorite thing to do is go down the shore to my beach house in Cape May!